So we took our first international bus ride from Santiago (chile) to Mendoza (Argentina) which took about 8 hours. The ride took us over the Andes, and whilst it was extremely picturesque, it was terrifying! Our bus driver insisted on overtaking at every blind corner crossing onto oncoming traffic on cliff edges- I had to make a conscious decision to stop watching the road because it was just too stressful!
About halfway through the trip, and onto of the Andes, we reached the border. With our bus stopped and some people getting on and others staying on the bus, we were yet again completely lost as to what was going on. Standing outside the bus in the snow, and then realising I really needed to pee, I tried to use the bus toilet but the door wouldn't open. Using a rather awkward charades style explanation to the bus driver he said something in Spanish and walked off. Trying again to open the toilet door, a fellow passenger said something very fast in Spanish and pointed off the bus- so I whipped out my most common phrase 'no entiendo' (I don't understand). Finally giving up on the idea of going to the toilet, everyone started to get off the bus and walk towards the border offices which are basically like little booths, with someone from the Chilean side and someone from the Argentinian side in each booth.The process took ages and we were all freezing standing outside waiting to get our passports stamped. Meanwhile guys take your bags off the bus and out them through the scanner, which is out of site and slightly dodgy!
The Chilean guy stamped our passports and then we had to line up again for the Argentinian to approve our entry- not sure what would happen if the Argentinian didn't approve you, because then technically you've left chile but not entered Argentina?! Anyway- we get to the front of the line and the guy takes my passport, looks at it, gets out of his seat, says 'un momento' and walks off out of the booth and across past all the other booths out of site. Slightly shitting myself that he had my passport and I didn't know where he had gone, an Argentinian guy from our bus saw how concerned I was and said 'its really bad that he has your passport out of your site', so I ask the bus driver if this normally happens and his one word answer was ' no'. Twenty minutes passed and aside from pissing off everyone else from our bus and being freezing cold, he finally returns…says nothing, stamps my passport and then makes a grumbling noise, and then uses a pen to cross out part of stamp he just gave me on my passport. Because that doesn't look dodgy at all and then says 'adios''. I don't know much about passports but here's hoping he hasn't made a copy to sell my identity, or damaged the chip. I guess we'll find out at our next border crossing!
We then went across for our hand luggage to be checked, and any checked luggage that had been scanned and they weren't happy with was put to the side and whoever belonged to it had to come forward. They then proceeded to pull out all the items of people's bags in front of everyone else. We were glad our bags passed, cos I would have been mega pissed if we had to try and get them closed again!
We made it to Mendoza and arrived at our hostel which our friend Sarah had recommended because of the dog that lived there margarita. So ofcourse we chose that one! We decided to book a horse riding adventure for the following day.
The bus to pick us up for horse riding arrived at 9.30 and there were only two others on our tour- and the guy seemed drunk. With a sideways glance at eachother we knew we were going to be in for a long 6 hours with these two!
After a 40min drive out through the outskirts (and some dodgy looking neighbourhoods) we got to the ranch. Getting on the bloody horse was half the battle for me, and according to this grumpy Argentinian cowboy I need to work on my arm muscles (perhaps I should have tested their strength on his face). The other girl in our group jumpd on a horse straught away, not waiting for one to be allocated to her. she was also rocking a cigarette whilst riding the horse within the first 10 seconds so that was a good start!
With very little instructions (zero) on how to actually ride the horse, we were on our way towards the mountains. Whilst repeatedly being told 'you must show to horse who is boss' but not much of anything else, I was feeling pretty secure?!! Then Sally looked behind her and the guide had disappeared. We were literally all alone in the middle of nowhere with no guide, it was crazy, after five minutes of riding by ourselves, thinking we had been left to do the trail ride on our own, our guide decided to come back!
The views were pretty great!
Now almost positive that the other guy in our group was definitely either drunk or on drugs judging by his behaviour and his girlfriend who was equally as strange were both trailing behind and out of site- our guide (the asshole) was getting more and more frustrated with them and I said to him 'is he drunk?' He laughed and told us that he has something wrong with his brain and that he was in an accident which made him lose control of his right side of his body and that he shouldn't be riding a horse because he could fall off. It was then that I realised none of us we're given helmets! Our guide then told us that we could gallop if we wanted at the end but the other two could not. I thought to myself- as if I'm going to fucking gallop, I can barely trot, have zero control over the horse, have been given absolutely no instructions and have no helmet. Flash forward 5 minutes and our guide starts shouting 'huzzzahh' and starts galloping in front of our horses and ofcourse ours follow- and here I am holding on for dear life!
Surviving the galloping, we arrived at another ranch and were cooked an Argentinian barbecue for lunch. The cook was pretty shocked when I said I didn't eat 'carne' (meat) particularly because meat is argentina's specialty- but he stacked my plate full of barbecued potatoes and bruschetta.
The cook, who was also the driver and about 60 years old, came up to me when I was waiting outside for Sally, and with no English was doing funny actions with his hands, having no idea what he was trying to say, he took off my sunglasses and showed me that he wanted me to out my hands over my eyes- slightly freaked out about why I needed to cover my eyes, he stood behind me p, wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up, cracking my back about 10 times. He then excitedly, with a big smile said 'bien no?!' Taken by surprise, and hoping my back was still in one piece I agreed and then told Sally to hurry the hell up in the bathroom!
I'm not sure if it was the horse riding or the back cracking but I've had a sore back ever since!
Over lunch we also discovered a bit more about the crazy couple who were in our group- she was from Mendoza and he was Italian. They had met on the Internet and he came over to see her for two weeks. With broken English, Spanish and Italian we managed to have a pretty hilarious and innaporopriate lunch and they turned out to be pretty funny. It seems other Italian men also joke about chorizo sausages too- he found it quite funny that (nick) also uses the same terrible joke!
We got back to our hostel and met up with our new German friend Jenny who has been stuck in Mendoza and missing over a month of her classes in chile waiting for her study visa to come through. We all decided to go for a walk into town. Quickly finding out she too has a sweet tooth and a love for chocolate we decided to stop at a great cafe with amazing cakes and sundaes (there's no chance I'm getting skinnier on this trip!)
We then decided we were going to go and exchange our American dollars on the black market. The Argentinian government banned US dollars because of the negative effect it was having on the economy and as a result there is a major black market where you can get a much better exchange rate. Nervously, the three of us put on our poker faces (and sunglasses) and went in search of a good deal. The guy at our hostel had told us where to go, and walking down a certain section of the Main Street there are heaps of guys standing around saying 'cambio, cambio' so it's pretty easy to find. After walking past ten or so, working up our courage we spotted an older gentlemen and decided he looked promising- with a few hush words we agreed on a rate (8.9 pesos per US Dollar. The proper exchange rate is about 5.5) so we got a pretty good deal. We were then asked to follow another gentlemen to complete the exchange. Walking away from the shops and into an arcade, I was glad the three of us were together because my heart was pounding. He took us into a little shop that sold random items- but I think is just a cover for the money operation. Counting out our cash and checking the notes were legit (well honestly, just acting like we knew what we were doing, but really I wouldn't have a clue what's real or not)- leaving the shop and stressing that we were being watched and were going to get mugged, went into the McDonalds bathroom and decided the cash so if we were stopped, one person wasn't carrying all the money. Love the paranoia!
After talking to the guy downstairs, we all figured out that the 'huge park' we had all heard about, and which we thought we found earlier was in fact not the it, and the one that we went to was about a 20th of the size. Being after 7 and Jenny leaving in morning we decided we needed to see it- so we jumped in a cab with our map. When we got there it was dark, and we were dropped outside a sporting complex and not completely sure which direction to head we pulled out our map. We must have looked as lost as we felt because this Argentinian rower (yes he was hot!) (nick- and by hot i mean sally and jenny thought he was hot, not me) came over and asked us if we needed help. Establishing that we were looking for the lake he told us to follow him through the sporting complex and onto the balcony- there he showed us that the lake was empty because they are in the process of cleaning it. Deciding that we were now less interested in the lake and more interested in this hot rower, we interrogated him about where we should go out tonight. After getting all the information we needed we jumped a cab back to the hostel to get dinner and get ready to go out. We didn't eat dinner until midnight, which is quite common here- and then made our to the bar our friend told us about. Sure enough, we walked in and he was there with his friends.
Getting home at about 5 and poor Jenny having to pack her things and hop straight into a cab to the airport, unfortunately as a result we were in no shape to do anything productive on our last day in Mendoza- including a wine tour. Yep- we went to Mendoza and we didn't even do a wine tour!